Georgian College has been supplying co-op students and graduates from its hospitality and tourism programs to businesses in the Collingwood area for many years. So, when it became apparent there was a need for more sustainable labour, the college was quick to respond with an innovative solution.
Critical labour gap
Human resources teams at local resorts have long recognized that a large challenge their organizations face is attracting and retaining employees on a year-round basis – especially being located 90 km north of Toronto. One of the major challenges has been the low availability of affordable housing in the surrounding area.
“We’ve been working with our partners in the Collingwood community for many years around ways to solve some of the economic issues in the tourism industry,” says Bryan Hunt, Dean, Hospitality, Tourism and Recreation at Georgian. “We knew that while our students served a critical role during their co-op semesters, the resorts needed staff throughout the year as well, so there were some gaps. I sat down with a few key people in 2018, specifically from Blue Mountain and Living Water Resorts, to discuss how we could have a more meaningful and mutually beneficial partnership.”
The solution was a pilot project to recruit international students to study in the Hospitality and Resort Operations Management co-op program with secured accommodation and part-time employment. Georgian knew hospitality programs were very popular with international students and it was marketed as an exclusive program at the John Di Poce South Georgian Bay Campus. The first cohort of approximately 30 students arrived in September 2018 ready to live, work and study in the area.
Matt Pearson, Director, Human Resources at Living Water Resorts, says the partnership has made a huge difference. “I’ve had a strong partnership with Georgian for many years and they were aware of the challenges resorts had with staffing. We had several conversations about how the college could support our staff recruitment. We’re more than satisfied with the quality of students we trained and subsequently, the graduates we’ve hired, and we’re looking forward to our continued partnership with Georgian.”
Jen Bailey, Manager, Human Resources at Blue Mountain echoes the same sentiment. “We’ve been a partner of this program since its inception,” says Jen. “Our HR team recognizes the large challenges in sourcing and attracting new employees to join the team for both year-round and seasonal opportunities. When Georgian approached us to discuss this program, we knew immediately that having students join our team to fill seasonal positions while simultaneously completing their studies would be a beneficial learning experience for all parties involved.”
Jen adds that Blue was able to provide convenient accommodation near the resort which assisted in the overall student experience. “Since the program began, we’ve had roughly 20 students who’ve worked with us and lived in our accommodation,” says Jen. “Many have obtained relevant on-the-job training, which complements their in-class learning, and has helped them pursue opportunities and careers, not only at Blue but elsewhere in the community.”
Successful pilot project
“This, to me, is the representation of what community colleges were meant to do, in that it works with local communities and businesses to solve specific economic and labour issues,” says Bryan. “It’s a great model. We were able to address the concerns from employers as well as those our international students face around having a place to live and a part-time job while they go to school.”
The pilot group was very successful, with approximately 90% of students graduating. Students were able to build program-related skills immediately and in tandem with their classes in subjects like Certifications for Hospitality, Hospitality Computer Applications, Food and Beverage Cost Controls, and more. Many graduates from the pilot cohort are still working at Living Water Resorts or Blue Mountain Resort and applying for permanent residency.
“Other graduates are still in Collingwood in hospitality-related roles, so it’s definitely a win for the local community from a staffing point of view,” says Bryan.
Bryan says many employers have asked to be included in the program but only Blue Mountain and Living Water can commit to the built-in expectations of the program right now.
“The expectations are high,” says Bryan. “Employers need to provide good wages, accommodations, and at least 20 hours of work each week. We want the experience to be good for the students, so ideally, they would stay for their co-op and then work for the resort the following year and hopefully be hired upon graduating.”
Win for students
Sumanpreet Kaur Brar travelled from Bathinda, Punjab, as part of the pilot cohort. While she had family in Brampton, knowing she had live-in accommodations where she would be working part-time was a bonus. “It was a huge relief,” says Sumanpreet. “Travelling back and forth from Brampton was not ideal. Having accommodation in Collingwood allowed me to focus on my studies.” She adds that studying in the same industry where she worked meant she could implement everything she was learning at college into her professional life. “The program knowledge was a great help especially around customer service,” says Sumanpreet. “And the part-time job at Living Water helped me gain hands-on experience. Plus, the money helped with my daily expenditures.” Sumanpreet plans to stay in Collingwood for the foreseeable future and she’s now working full-time as the Manager of Member Services at Living Water Resorts and Spa.
Harman Saini, who was also part of the pilot, agrees it was helpful having accommodations and a part-time job in place before arriving. “It was amazing to have everything set up the way it was,” says Harman. “When coming to Canada, most people wonder where they’ll be staying or renting. But this wasn’t the case for us. We had somewhere to call home, a job to take care of our financial needs – all in place, even before the plane landed.” Harman adds the money they earned was a benefit toward some of his college expenses. “It was incredibly helpful, especially as an international student,” says Harman. “We could only work 20 hours a week so you really want to spend the hours where it will be worth it. I feel lucky to have spent them at Living Water where I’ve worked since arriving in Canada.”
Harman started as a host and was then promoted to restaurant assistant manager where he still works part-time. He says that promotion helped his eligibility to apply for his permanent residency.
The next intake for the Hospitality and Resort Operations Management program at the John Di Poce South Georgian Bay Campus is planned for September 2023.
About the John Di Poce South Georgian Bay Campus
Located in a picturesque setting in Collingwood, this campus offers full-time programs, continuing education, academic upgrading and more within state-of-the-art facilities. Our close-knit culture allows students a chance to receive one-on-one time with faculty and staff. Developing a partnership with Georgian will benefit you, your employees and organization, while making a difference in the lives of students. Learn more at the website here.
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Photo Credits: Dave West Photography